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Eye Opener: Jan. 29, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday! A reminder that there's only one month left to submit nominations for the Partnership for Public Service's Service to America Medals, given to dedicated federal employees each Fall.

Also -- if you're a telecommuter or interested in using video teleconference technology at your federal office, stop by the grand opening of the TANDBERG Executive Briefing Center in Reston, Va. today from 4 to 7 p.m. for a demonstration of VTC technology. You should pre-register if planning to stop by.

Next week The Eye unveils the latest report in our "Ask Your Government" series. Make sure to submit your questions for federal departments, agencies and offices through our Google Moderator group.

Send your event notices, news tips, questions or comments to And don't forget to follow The Eye on Twitter!

In the news...

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) has introduced a bill that would increase resources and regulatory authority for the Food and Drug Administration, saying it "can't and doesn't do its job, and American lives are at risk. We're killing Americans."

The FDA publicly released its inspection reports for the Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga. at the heart of the national salmonella outbreak.

"We don't have a good idea right now in terms of how much of that product is still out there; it may have largely been consumed," Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition told The Post.

Interestingly, "The last time the FDA inspected the plant was in 2001, officials said yesterday. In 2006, the agency contracted inspections to the Georgia Department of Agriculture. State inspectors visited the plant about twice a year, but in 2008 they did not check for salmonella. The state inspection reports all seemed to play down deficiencies, saying all that was needed was routine follow-up."

In other news...

Postal Service Scaling Back?: The Postmaster General made big news Wednesday afternoon, telling a Senate panel the USPS and its 700,000-strong workforce may have to cut one day of service, either Saturday or Tuesday. John E. Potter told Federal Diarist Joe Davidson that service reduction is the "worst-case scenario" if other efforts -- particularly a proposed rescheduling of retiree health-benefit payments -- do not produce the required savings or if mail volume falls beyond expectations. Cuts would happen in the summer, the lightest delivery period.

Bush's Cheesy Last-Minute Decision: Colleage Edward Cody has a delicious report on changes to U.S. trade policy involving Roquefort cheese. "In its final days, the Bush administration imposed a 300 percent duty on Roquefort, in effect closing off the U.S. market." The decision was announced Jan. 13 by outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab "as retaliation for a European Union ban on imports of U.S. beef containing hormones. Tit for tat, and all perfectly legal under World Trade Organization rules, U.S. officials explained."

• The 'Geithner Exception': The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger pens a great review of the tax (or no tax) mess involving the new treasury secretary. "Washington is falling to the level of a Web-based video game," he writes. "Everyone is expendable. Treasury secretaries and presidential advisers are a dime a dozen. Put differently: The job-protected and gerrymandered lifers are driving out the competition. More often than not, Washington's worst people are destroying its better people."

Pay-For-Performance Debuting at USDA: The demonstration project covering 2,900 nonbargaining unit employees in the Food Safety Inspection Service launches in July. The agency says it will help recruit and retain qualified employees. "FSIS noted shortages of public health veterinarians and scientists, and said the average age of its mission-critical employees ranges from 50 to 53, depending on the occupation. The agency is spending more than $1 million annually on recruitment and retention incentives, but said these efforts have not been adequate."

New Rules Proposed For News Helicopters: The NTSB has voted unanimously to recommend that operators of news helicopters assign the reporting role to someone other than the flying pilot, unless the operator can prove that a pilot's workload is "manageable under all conditions." Thankfully (?), this decision will not impact coverage of high-speed chases, a staple of daytime cable news programs, it merely makes things safer for the pilot.

SEC's Mary Schapiro Discloses Wealth: Sworn in on Tuesday, she has hundreds of thousands of dollars in money-market and mutual funds, large holdings in stocks, and is receiving $675,000 in deferred compensation from a company on whose board she sat for about 10 years. "She isn't required to recuse herself from matters involving the industry sectors of the stocks she holds, but under the ethics agreement she will remove herself from matters involving any of the specific companies."

Dressing Down at the White House: Suit coats no longer required in the Oval Office. Not that the dress code at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has any impact on what federal workers wear...

CIA Station Chief Accused of Sex Assaults: The alleged incidents happened in Algeria. Not good.

Fighting for FEMA: Al Kamen recaps the fight to lead the troubled agency.

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 29, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: FY-Eye: FOIA Back in Favor

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